Thursday, 3 March 2011

BSNYC Field Trip: The North American Handmade Bicycle Show of Two Thousand and Eleven

As a young child growing up on an Idahoan tuber farm in a strict Jainist household, I used to dream of three (3) things:

1) To get one of those cool novelty license plates for my bike;
2) To one day move to New York City;
3) To never, ever see a freaking potato again for as long as I live.

For years, it seemed as though I would never achieve any of these goals. As the bearer of an unusual first name (it's Increase if you must know, my parents were deeply interested in Puritan culture), I would browse the novelty license plate racks fruitlessly before collapsting in tears. Also, New York, that fabled land immortalized in cinema classics such as "Tootsie," "Big," and "Midnight Cowboy," was impossibly far away, and it seemed as elusive to me as a novelty license plate that said "Increase" on it. And as for escaping the crushing ubiquity of the potato, let's just say when even your bed is a giant hollowed-out yam, the notion of a tuber-free existence can seem like nothing more than sweet potato pie in the sky.

Nevertheless dreams do come true--though be careful what you wish for, and other clichés. For example, after winning multiple scholarships I eventually obtained simultaneous liberal arts degrees from Bard, Sarah Lawrence, Wesleyan, and Oberlin, and I did indeed move to New York City, though I was tremendously disappointed to learn that it's actually bereft of culture and is instead full of beard-and-flannel-wearing "hipsters" who like to pretend they're living in Idaho. Also--and who'd have thunk it?--I actually miss potatoes very much (you can't buy them legally here, they were banned under the Rockefeller Drug Laws to discourage the use of potato bongs) and often cry myself to sleep while cuddling a Mr. Potato Head. And as for that license plate for my bike, it looks like I may finally get one after all, though since New York State would actually force me into it the proposition has lost all of its appeal to me:

The only thing more insulting than some boneheaded politician trying to make you put a license plate on your bike is some hokey journalist equating bicycles with children's toys. I'd almost rather register my bike than perpetuate the notion that bikes are for toddlers and belong on the sidewalk.

Of course, we all know that not only are bicycles a legitimate form of transportation for grown-up adult human beings, but that they're also Serious Business. That's why I was in Austin, Texas last week, testing crabon fribé toys for grown-up adults with the editorial staff of Bicycling magazine. I'll share some of my bike-testicular experiences with you at some future date, but this trip also afforded me an opportunity to visit the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (or NAHBS), which took place last weekend and which I visited on Friday.

Cycling is full of paradoxes, and the NAHBS is no exception. Just a few contradictions I found myself puzzling over included:

--How come it's called the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, yet the biggest news to come out of it is that Ritchey is bringing back the "Swiss Cross" and it will be mass-produced in Taiwan?

--How come everybody seems to hate show organizer Don Walker, yet somehow he remains in power, like Muammar Gaddafi?

--Why doesn't the NAHBS simply adopt the tagline "Sassy, smart solutions for everyday living" and admit that it's the new Interbike already?

Unfortunately I'm no closer to answering any of these questions now than I was before the show. However, as a NAHBS virgin I knew I'd have to fortify myself before engaging in all that lug-slavering, and so I visited one of Austin's many food trucks:

Food trucks are one of those things people get way too excited about these days, like boutique embrocations and designer axes, though I did enjoy both my lunch and the idle conversation the guy in the black t-shirt was having with the food truck "curator" about his nascent handmade jewelry enterprise. (Austin and Portland need to have an artisanal craftsperson cage match on Pay-Per-View already.) I also enjoyed the Jamis something-or-other I borrowed for the afternoon:

Yes, in addition to vast quantities of crabon, as a bicycle tester I had access to a number of "townie" bikes, and for my trip to the NAHBS I opted for the bicycle above, which (and I can't even believe I'm saying this, but I guess I've finally attained full-on bike-dorkdom) sorely needed a kickstand.

By the way, Austin is famous for its live music scene, and mountain bike pioneer Gary Fisher was gracious enough to provide the lunchtime entertainment:

By the time I finished my lunch Fisher had raked in two whole dollars and a single cent:

That's almost one dollar after taxes. [Insert cynical Obama joke here.]

Having finished my lunch, I straddled my Jamis and headed off to the Austin Convention Center:

The bike was equipped with an Exitement-O-Meter, and as I drew closer to the NAHBS my anticipation went from a "3:"

To a "4:"

And eventually topped out at a "6" before I managed to calm myself down and return to my default state of pessimistic nonplussitude:

Until I encountered a man riding a motor-assisted bicycle chopper:

In true "Cat 6" fashion I tried to get on the chopper's wheel, but unfortunately I lost him when I got stuck behind one of Austin's many cowboys:

By the way, you haven't seen trackstanding until you've seen someone do it on a horse.

At the convention center I parked my Jamis next to a Vanilla:

And locked it up Pee-Wee Herman-style with my 500-foot cable lock:

This was more difficult than you'd imagine, since I was actually trembling with excitement by this point. Yes, finally, after years and years I was about to see the show everybody talks about--the Texas Middle School Association's annual conference:

Stepping into the convention center, I was afforded a closer look at the chopper that had eluded me earlier:

And then I entered the show itself, where Birkenstocked bike dorks shuffled about in a steel-induced daze, like extras in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:"

I'm talking about the Smell of Steel:

Yes, those ferrous pheromones have compelled even the most aloof bike dork to crawl into his own giant messenger bag and emit heaving sobs of joy.

Now, by way of dispensing with the obvious, the NAHBS is filled with talented builders and very appealing bicycles, and I'm certainly not above admiring them. The first bikes I admired were from Engin Cycles of Philadelphia:

Drew Guldalian of Engin built the above bicycle for someone who will ride it in Paris-Brest-Paris, which is for retrogrouches what Monster Track is for "hipsters."

Next, I ambled over to admire Chris King's line of bicycles, Cielo, where they were showing a bike with an integrated charcuterie tray:

In Portland, cutting boards are the new fender:

There were also many important personages, such as Sam Whittingham:

Not only is the the curator of Naked Bicycles, but he's also the world's fastest recumbent rider:

Yes, he's the guy inside the suppository:

I'm sure by now Whittingham is incredibly tired of people saying to him, "Hey, almost didn't recognize you outside of that gigantic sperm bike!"

There were also heroes of the upright cycling world, such as Grand Tour winner Andy Hampsten of Hampsten Cycles. As everybody knows, Hampsten won the Vuelta a Espana after a truly "epic" sandstorm stage:

It's inspiring to see someone of Hampsten's stature getting his hands dirty by manning a booth in a convention center--and he did get them dirty, because he actually shook my hand. (Ordinarily I do people the courtesy of handing them Action Wipes after they shake my hand, but unfortunately for Hampsten I had just given my entire supply to someone who was totally "skeeved out" after meeting Don Walker.)

Speaking of dirty things, security tried to eject this guy's dog:

However, the owner flashed his "service dog" credentials and so the canine was allowed to stay. As the owner was not blind I'm not sure what service the dog actually performed, but since he seemed to be very interested in the Richard Sachs cyclocross bikes my best guess is that he was one of those lug-sniffing dogs.

But NAHBS isn't all about sweet bikes and even sweeter celebrities. It's also about exercises in pointlessness, like this bamboo tall bike from Craig Calfee, the man who starved a thousand pandas:

There were also these:

At first I thought they were cocoons, but I stood there for almost an hour and a frame that wasn't horribly ugly failed to emerge, so I can only assume these things are actually the finished product.

And who wouldn't want a crabon tnadem?

Meanwhile, Vanilla's wait list is now so long that they didn't even bother showing any bikes and instead brought a huge booth in which they recreated the entire city of Portland:

Here's Sacha White laughing at an aspiring Vanilla owner and telling him to come back in 30 years:

By this point I was already getting tired, so I stopped by the Chris King back massager:

The whole assembly rolls on precision sealed cartridge bearings, and all you do is lean against it and rub.

Thus reinvigorated, I mistakenly thought I could handle the Geekhouse booth, where "hipster" cycling had reached its apotheosis in custom form. Here is the touring bike they built for former fixed-gear freestyle impresario turned aspiring traditional Fred Prolly, which is finished in a bruise-purple-to-raw-steel fade "colorway" and may be one of the ugliest custom bicycles I have ever seen:

Though it's positively classy compared to this custom polo bike:

If bike polo had one thing going for it, it was that it was one of the last remaining bastions of cycledom in which people didn't use expensive equipment. However, with the advent of the polo showbike, it would seem that those days are officially over, and poloists have finally evolved into agoraphobic roadies.

In search of relief from this heady atmosphere of bike dorkdom, I stepped outside for some fresh air, only to be attacked by a phalanx of people on Segways:

Like UFOs, they hovered for awhile in a way that somehow seemed both haphazard and choreographed:

As their numbers swelled, so did the general sense of menace:

I stood there frozen with terror until, worldessly, as if in possessed of some sort of hive mind, they suddenly rode away on their dork podiums:

Even now, it's as if it happened in a dream.


Post a Comment

Ping Blog

Step 1
Blog URL:

Blog Title (optional):

Blog RSS Feed (optional):

I agree with terms of service.

Step 2
Copy the following code and put it on your blog/site to help our blog ping tool track your submission (Need help?):

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Best Buy Coupons